May
18
2020
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Electric gets another $7 million in funding from 01 Advisors and the Slack Fund

Electric, a platform that aims to put IT departments in the cloud, today announced new funding following a continuation of its Series B earlier this year.

Dick Costolo and Adam Bain (01 Advisors) and the Slack Fund participated in the $7 million capital infusion.

01 Advisors put up the majority of the financing ($5 million) with the Slack Fund putting up a little under $1 million and other insiders covering the rest, according to Electric founder and CEO Ryan Denehy.

The funding situation with Electric is a bit unique. Electric raised a $25 million Series B round led by GGV in January of 2019. In March of this year, just before the lockdown, the company reopened the Series B at a higher valuation to make room for Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, raising an additional $14.5 million.

Then the coronavirus pandemic rocked the globe. On Monday March 9, the stock market felt it, triggering a temporary halt on trading. The following week was total financial chaos.

That’s when Adam Bain called up Denehy again. They ‘rapped out’ about the potential for Electric during this turbulent time.

“The increase in remote work is going to be dramatic,” said Denehy, relaying his conversation with Bain. “Larger companies are going to get smarter about budgeting and there is a lot of urgency for them to find ways to spend money around back office tasks like IT more efficiently. Electric becomes more appealing because, dollar for dollar, it’s a lot more efficient than building a big IT department.”

The first week of April, Bain called Denehy again, this time saying that 01 Advisors wanted to put in more money into Electric.

Electric is a platform designed to support the existing IT department of an organization, or in some cases, replace an outsourced IT department. Most of IT’s responsibilities focus on administration, distribution and maintenance of software programs. Electric allows IT to install its software on every corporate machine, giving the department a bird’s-eye view of the organization’s IT situation. It also aims to give IT departments more time to focus on real problem-solving and troubleshooting tasks.

From their own machine, lead IT professionals can grant and revoke permissions, assign roles and ensure all employees’ software is up to date.

Electric is also integrated with the APIs of top software programs, like Dropbox and G-suite, letting IT handle most of their day-to-day tasks through the Electric dashboard. Moreover, Electric is also integrated with Slack, letting folks within the organization flag an issue or ask a question from the platform where they spend the most time.

“The biggest challenge for Electric is keeping up with demand,” said Jason Spinell from the Slack Fund, who also mentioned that he passed on investing in Electric’s seed round and is “excited to sort of rectify [his] mistake.”

Electric also added a new self-service product that can live in the dock, letting employees look at all the software applications provided by the organization from their remote office.

“There are so many stretched IT departments now that have to do a lot more with a lot less,” said Denehy. “There are also companies who were working with an outsourced IT provider and relied on them showing up to the office a few times a week, and all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore.”

With the current ecosystem, Electric is continuing to spend on marketing but with 180 percent increase in interest from potential clients in the pipeline, according to Denehy.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate amount invested by participants in the round.

Nov
04
2019
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CTO.ai’s developer shortcuts eliminate coding busywork

There’s too much hype about mythical “10X developers.” Everyone’s desperate to hire these “ninja rockstars.” In reality, it’s smarter to find ways of deleting annoying chores for the coders you already have. That’s where CTO.ai comes in.

Emerging from stealth today, CTO.ai lets developers build and borrow DevOps shortcuts. These automate long series of steps they usually have to do manually, thanks to integrations with GitHub, AWS, Slack and more. CTO.ai claims it can turn a days-long process like setting up a Kubernetes cluster into a 15-minute task even sales people can handle. The startup offers both a platform for engineering and sharing shortcuts, and a service where it can custom build shortcuts for big customers.

What’s remarkable about CTO.ai is that amidst a frothy funding environment, the 60-person team quietly bootstrapped its way to profitability over the past two years. Why take funding when revenue was up 400% in 18 months? But after a chance meeting aboard a plane connected its high school dropout founder Kyle Campbell with Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, CTO.ai just raised a $7.5 million seed round led by Slack Fund and Tiger Global.

“Building tools that streamline software development is really expensive for companies, especially when they need their developers focused on building features and shipping to customers,” Campbell tells me. The same way startups don’t build their own cloud infrastructure and just use AWS, or don’t build their own telecom APIs and just use Twilio, he wants CTO.ai to be the “easy button” for developer tools.

Teaching snakes to eat elephants

“I’ve been a software engineer since the age of 8,” Campbell recalls. In skate-punk attire with a snapback hat, the young man meeting me in a San Francisco Mission District cafe almost looked too chill to be a prolific coder. But that’s kind of the point. His startup makes being a developer more accessible.

After spending his 20s in software engineering groups in the Bay, Campbell started his own company, Retsly, that bridged developers to real estate listings. In 2014, it was acquired by property tech giant Zillow, where he worked for a few years.

That’s when he discovered the difficulty of building dev tools inside companies with other priorities. “It’s the equivalent of a snake swallowing an elephant,” he jokes. Yet given these tools determine how much time expensive engineers waste on tasks below their skill level, their absence can drag down big enterprises or keep startups from rising.

CTO.ai shrinks the elephant. For example, the busywork of creating a Kubernetes cluster such as having to the create EC2 instances, provision on those instances and then provision a master node gets slimmed down to just running a shortcut. Campbell writes that “tedious tasks like running reports can be reduced from 1,000 steps down to 10,” through standardization of workflows that turn confusing code essays into simple fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions.

The CTO.ai platform offers a wide range of pre-made shortcuts that clients can piggyback on, or they can make and publish their own through a flexible JavaScript environment for the rest of their team or the whole community to use. Companies that need extra help can pay for its DevOps-as-a-Service and reliability offerings to get shortcuts made to solve their biggest problems while keeping everything running smoothly.

5(2X) = 10X

Campbell envisions a new way to create a 10X engineer that doesn’t depend on widely mocked advice on how to spot and capture them like trophy animals. Instead, he believes one developer can make five others 2X more efficient by building them shortcuts. And it doesn’t require indulging bad workplace or collaboration habits.

With the new funding that also comes from Yaletown Partners, Pallasite Ventures, Panache Ventures and Jonathan Bixby, CTO.ai wants to build deeper integrations with Slack so developers can run more commands right from the messaging app. The less coding required for use, the broader the set of employees that can use the startup’s tools. CTO.ai may also build a self-service tier to augment its seats, plus a complexity model for enterprise pricing.

Now it’s time to ramp up community outreach to drive adoption. CTO.ai recently released a podcast that saw 15,000 downloads in its first three weeks, and it’s planning some conference appearances. It also sees virality through its shortcut author pages, which, like GitHub profiles, let developers show off their contributions and find their next gig.

One risk is that GitHub or another core developer infrastructure provider could try to barge directly into CTO.ai’s business. Google already has Cloud Composer, while GitHub launched Actions last year. Campbell says its defense comes through neutrally integrating with everyone, thereby turning potential competitors into partners.

The funding firepower could help CTO.ai build a lead. With every company embracing software, employers battling to keep developers happy and teams looking to get more of their staff working with code, the startup sits at the intersection of some lucrative trends of technological empowerment.

“I have a three-year-old at home and I think about what it will be like when he comes into creating things online,” Campbell concludes. “We want to create an amazing future for software developers, introducing automation so they can focus on what makes them such an important aspect. Devs are defining society!”

[Image Credit: Disney/Pixar via WallHere Goodfon]

Jun
04
2019
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VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

Mar
07
2018
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Begin, a new app from Ryan Block, uses natural language to generate tasks from your Slack

Over two years after leaving Aol (now known as Oath) back in September 2015 to build a new startup, serial entrepreneur Ryan Block, with co-founder Brian LeRoux, is finally taking the wraps off the new venture: Begin, an intelligent app designed to help you keep track of things that you have to do, and when you should do them, as they come up in the stream of a messaging app.

By extension, Begin is also solving one of the more persistent problems of messaging apps: losing track of things you need to remember in the wider thread of the conversation.

Begin is launching today as an integration on Slack — which also happens to be one of its backers, by way of the Slack Fund .

Taking tasking apps to task

As you might have already seen, there are a lot apps out there today to help you track tasks and larger work you have to do, from software based around project management and specific to-do lists like Asana, Todoist, Wrike and Microsoft’s Wunderlist/To-Do, through to those geared more to planning performance management, like BetterWorks.

The problem is that while some people have found these various dedicated apps useful, for a good proportion, task apps are where tasks go to die. Block — despite a pretty productive resume that includes editor of Engadget, co-founder of Gdgt, and VP of Product at Aol — was one of the latter group.

“Every time I’ve ever tried using a task management app I found it sad and discouraging to use,” he said. “You just end up getting a massive backlog of tasks and you lose sight of what’s really important.” (I’m guessing he is not the only one: the proliferation of these dozens of apps, without any single, clear market leader, you could argue is one indication of how none of them have achieved a critical enough mass of users.)

So Block and LeRoux started to think about how you could fix task apps and make them a more natural part of how work gets done.

They thought of messaging apps and their role in communications today. And more specifically, they turned to Slack. With its rapid-fire conversations and ability to draw in data from other apps, Slack has not only been one of the fastest-growing services in the enterprise world, but it has changed the conversation around business communications (literally and figuratively) .

“Slack to us is more than just enterprise productivity,” Block said. “We see Slack as a primary tentpole in the future of work.”

Synchronicity

But, if you are one of the tens of millions of people that uses a messaging app like Slack at work, you’ll know that it can be wonderful and frustrating in equal parts. Wonderful because messaging can spur conversations or get answers quickly from people who might not be directly next to you; but frustrating because messaging can be — especially in group chat rooms — noisy, distracting and hard to track if you’re not paying attention all the time.

Begin has honed in on the third of these challenges of messaging platforms, and specifically in how it pertains to being in the working world.

Sometimes in the course of a conversation an item might come up that you or a coworker needs to follow up. Sometimes you might not even be a part of the conversation when that item comes up. In the course of a chat, the conversation might abruptly turn to another subject before you’ve had a chance to address an item. Begin is for all those moments.

Or, as Block described it to me, “It’s the difference between synchronous versus asynchronous work. Slack is good for certain things but for tracking things, it can be very hard.”

With Begin, the idea is that, when something arises that you need to follow up, you set yourself — or someone else — a reminder by essentially calling Begin (@begin) into the conversation and making a note of that task using normal language. (Example: “@begin Check in with @katie and @lynley about the earnings schedule tomorrow”.)

The two people I’ve tagged in my example don’t have to be there when I’m mentioning this, and they won’t have to look through Slack mentions to find what I said, nor do I need to leave the conversation to write the reminder. For all of us, we can turn to Begin itself to check out the tasks when we have time, and on Begin those tasks get ordered by their timing.

It’s a simple solution that is surprisingly not a part of the Slack experience today.

Aside from Slack, other investors in Begin’s seed round (of an undisclosed amount) include SV Angel, 415, SV Angel and General Catalyst, which took a stake in Begin as its first “bot” investment nearly two years ago.

Fast forward to today, with bot hype subsiding, Block is happy to say that while Begin has a degree of intelligence, particularly around reading natural language and turning that into an action of sorts (an action for you to do), he plays down the bot aspect. “We think of this as a Slack app, not as a bot,” he said.

Begin is, in fact, beginning small when it comes to features.

It’s only on Slack, you can’t draw in other apps or data into your tasks, it doesn’t give you a lot of short gradation when it comes to timing (days are currently the shortest increment for setting a task), and it doesn’t synchronise with any calendars.

Those are all areas that Block says that the company is working on for future iterations, either by being baked directly into the app by Begin itself, or there for others to integrate by way of an API.

Does Begin have a way of setting a task to look at your tasks? It’s one question that underscores the fact that ultimately you will still have to, at some point, look at a list. That may be something that the Begin team might try to address over time, too, but for now, it’s the simple creation that is the focus.

Jan
04
2017
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Slack makes another 11 new investments in its Slack fund

slack-hq As Slack’s rapid growth begins to slow a little bit, the company is looking to become a wider productivity platform — and that includes getting as many developers as it can building applications that can figure out new and unique use cases for it.
That’s part of the reason it established the Slack Fund, which makes investments in startups that are building tools on top of Slack. Read More

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